The early returns on NBA free agency have not brought good news to the Thunder.
The Houston Rockets offered Omer Asik $25 million over three years. Asik was the Bulls' offensively-challenged backup center last season. The guy who missed those foul shots after C.J. Watson needlessly threw him the ball in the final seconds against the Sixers.
The Portland TrailBlazers offered Pacers center Roy Hibbert a maximum contract — $58 million over four years. Hibbert is a good player; a borderline all-star. Maybe he's worth $14.5 million a year. He'd better be.
And the Celtics gave Kevin Garnett a three-year, $34-million contract that is described by most as “below-market value.”
Does anyone still think Serge Ibaka will come cheap?
The Thunder can sign Ibaka (and James Harden and Eric Maynor) to contract extensions this summer. The rest of the league must keep its hands off until at least next summer, when the Thunder trio would be restricted free agents. That means the Thunder can claim their services by matching whatever contract offer they sign.
Sam Presti knew the market would make for a tight fit to keep Harden and Ibaka, particularly. But this tight?
Backup centers with no offensive game going for $8.3 million a year? Asik is a decent player. Good defense, good rebounder, absolutely horrible on offense. And he's 26. Ibaka is 22.
A max contract for a 7-foot-2 center who shoots less than 50 percent from the field and whose career year last season netted 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a game? Both Hibbert and Ibaka can change a game defensively, and while Hibbert has been more productive offensively, he's also had more opportunity, and both of those truths could change in the next several seasons. If Hibbert is worth $14.5 million a year, Ibaka's worth isn't far behind.
A hometown discount of $11.3 million a year for a guy who will be 39 in the last season of the contract? I know you can't compare anyone to KG's impact in Boston, but as much as the Celtics love his fire and competitiveness and leadership, the reason they signed on for three more years was the inside presence Garnett brings. Other teams will want the same from Ibaka.
Maybe they're all worth it. Obviously, that's what the market has established.
But that means Ibaka's worth will skyrocket, too.
We're talking about a 22-year-old forward who in each of his three NBA seasons has made huge jumps in production. He led the NBA in blocked shots this past season, by a mile, and made all 11 of his shots in a Western Conference Finals game against the Spurs.
No telling what Ibaka could command on the open market next summer, and his agent knows it. I don't see any way the Thunder can keep Ibaka for anything less than $10 million, and likely he will cost more.
That's the price of NBA big men. They're hard to find. And when you find one, it costs to keep them.
Look no further than Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder's enforcer of a center. Perk will make $7.8 million next season, 8.5 million in 2013-14 and $9.1 million in 2014-15. Gran Torino isn't much of an offensive threat, but he rebounds and plays defense and keeps the likes of Tim Duncan and Andrew Bynum at bay.
Some think the Thunder will have to cut Perkins under the NBA's new one-time only amnesty rule, which allows a franchise to clear a contract from its books.
But Perk's contract is value-loaded.
With the most recent rash of contract offers, Perkins' salary figures to rank in the bottom third of NBA center contracts. Looks to me like he'll rank 21st among the league's 30 starting centers.
And heck, it's not just big men that are getting interesting offers. The new collective bargaining agreement does not seem to have slowed the demand for ballplayers, no matter the price.
The Nets offered Gerald Wallace $40 million over four years. The Timberwolves offered Nicolas Batum $44 million over four years. Both are quality wings. But neither is close to being a star. Any reasonable analyst would have to say Ibaka is as valuable as either right now and his future is much brighter.
For the Thunder, signing Ibaka is getting more difficult by the day.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.